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9 Retinol Alternatives That Still Deliver Glowing, Smooth Skin Without The Harmful Side Effects

Danielle Cohen

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When it comes to skincare, few ingredients are as loved by derms and experts alike as retinoids — and with good reason. They increase cell turnover, stimulate collagen production, reduce signs of aging, smooth fine lines and texture, and reduce the appearance of blemishes. But those miracle results can come hand-in-hand with some pretty gnarly side effects: dry, patchy, flaky, red, and irritated skin. And while those side effects go away for many, sometimes that just isn’t the case.

Retinoids aren’t for everyone, especially those who have sensitive skin or are pregnant, breastfeeding. (And of course, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your healthcare practitioner before trying a new skincare product.) And with pandemic-induced mask-wearing, there’s even less tolerance to retinoids than ever before. Luckily, there are ample plant-based options out there that deliver similar (though not identical) results sans-irritation. Read on for the retinol alternatives to keep on your radar.


Widely considered nature’s retinol, bakuchiol increases collagen production and boosts cell turnover much like a true retinol does. But unlike its counterpart, bakuchiol is easier to tolerate by sensitive and reactive skin types as well as safe for use during pregnancy. Plus the botanical extract is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which is never a bad thing.

Ole Henriksen Goodnight Glow Bakuchiol Sleeping Creme

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Image: Ole Henriksen. Courtesy of Ole Henriksen.

This all-in-one night cream utilizes a powerful blend of AHAs and bakuchiol to transform skin overnight. It deeply hydrates while targeting fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots for the ultimate good night’s rest.

Goodnight Glow Bakuchiol Sleeping Crème $58

Biossance Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum

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Image: Biossance. Courtesy of Biossance.

A cocktail of bakuchiol, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide visibly evens skin tone and reduces discoloration, all without the harsh side effects of retinol. Because it works well on sensitive and photosensitive skin, it can be used day or night.

Squalane + Phyto-Retinol Serum $72

Herbivore Botanicals Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative

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Image: Herbivore Botanicals. Courtesy of Herbivore Botanicals.

This serum has a jelly-like texture that spreads on smoothly to rapidly hydrate and refine the skin. With gentle exfoliation and plumping properties, skin is left silky smooth with zero irritation.

Bakuchiol Retinol Alternative Smoothing Serum $19

Bidens Pilosa

Also known as blackjack, Spanish needle, and picão preto, Bidens pilosa treats signs of aging while helping calm the skin and boost luminosity. The results are said to be kinder to the skin than retinol, while still delivering similar results.

REN Bio Retinoid Youth Serum

REN Bio Retinoid Youth Serum

Designed to visibly limit irritation, this evening oil is gentle yet effective and visibly reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles over time. It leaves skin looking smoother and more radiant.

Bio Retinoid™ Youth Serum $75

BareMinerals Ageless Phyto-Retinol Night Concentrate

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Image: bareMinerals. Courtesy of bareMinerals.

Packed with protein peptides, hyaluronic acid, and phyto-retinol (bidens pelosa), this night concentrate works overnight to visibly reduce fine lines and wrinkles and even out skin tone and texture. Apply directly after cleansing and top with a simple moisturizer before bed.

Ageless 10% Phyto-Retinol Night Concentrate $62

Goop GOOPGENES All-In-One Nourishing Face Cream

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Image: Goop. Courtesy of Goop.

With a megadose of plant-based ceramides and highly active botanicals, this formula works to leave skin looking (and feeling!) soft and supple. The rich cream is formulated with nourishing ingredients like schisandra fruit and illipe butter to deeply moisturize and nourish dull skin.

GOOPGENES All-In-One Nourishing Face Cream $98

Rosehip and Carrot Seed Oil

Rosehip and carrot seed oil are rich in vitamin A, which retinol is derived from, which makes the two oils great swaps for the retinol-averse. Both increase cellular turnover and fight free radicals thanks to a boost of antioxidants. Rosehip oil regenerates and heals the skin, as well as increases collagen production and skin elasticity. And because they’re oils, both give a major boost of glowy goodness to the skin.

Pai Rosehip Bioregenerate

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Image: Pai. Courtesy of Pai.

This lightweight formula combats pigmentation, dullness, and fine lines thanks to its powerful blend of rosehip oil, fruit oil, and Omegas 3, 6, 7, and 9. Pat it into the skin as the final step of your skincare routine to rejuvenate and deeply condition.

Rosehip BioRegenerate Universal Face Oil $44

Naturopathica Carrot Seed Soothing Facial Oil

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Image: Naturopathica. Courtesy of Naturopathica.

A blend of lavender, evening primrose, and carrot oils hydrates and refreshes the skin, while calming irritation and relieving redness. The deeply soothing formula is perfect for those struggling with angry, dry skin.

Naturopathica Carrot Seed Soothing Facial Oil (1 fl. oz.) $72

Trilogy 100% Natural Certified Organic Rosehip Oil

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Image: Trilogy. Courtesy of Trilogy.

A cult favorite, this oil is rich in fatty acids that help quickly absorb into the skin and improve overall skin health. Add a drop or two to your foundation for a dewy finish and boost of radiance.

Certified Organic Rosehip Oil 45 mL $45.90

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